PH-2 Flying Lifeboat

by Charles E Spencer

 Charles E Spencer is the Editor, Inland Sparks Newsletter of the Society of Wireless Pioneers and tells of life on the "Hall Boat"

"Flying Lifeboat" sounds a little strange to one who has ever launched a heavy lifeboat off the beach into the surf. Way to go though in those days before helicopters. This is a fond memory of the "Hall Boat" as we called these airplanes.

I guess the name "Hall Boat" came from some people named Hall who built the thing. It had no wheels and had to be positioned on a cradle to drag it out of the water and hosed down after every foray. Barnacles on the hull were a no-no.

Radiomen at the Coast Guard Air Station in Cape May, New Jersey, did not enjoy this duty. They sat down in the bilge with only one tiny porthole to peer out. The plane had a trailing antenna for the medium frequencies. There was a large hatch portside where crew and shipwrecked survivors could be dragged aboard.

Much preferred by radiomen was duty on a Grumman Amphibian Duck or Widgeon, or the DC-3 at the beck-and-call of the Secretary of the Treasury or his friends. Eleanor Roosevelt was a frequent flyer. (The Coast Guard was under the Department of Treasury in those days.)

"Burke’s Circus" was a whispered description of this base in honor of our leader Commander Burke. I recall a time when everyone who owned an automobile were ordered out to flank the airstrip with headlights on to bring home a CAP lost in the fog. (A CAP was an enlisted Chief Aviation Pilot.) This showed a touching concern for an enlisted man. Or was it the airplane?

The last I saw of Commander Burke was when all the airplanes were being moved to a new air station down at Elizabeth City, North Carolina. He came into the radio shack where I had been ordered to man the aviation position.

I had my feet up on the desk and reading a girly magazine. Gold braid quivered and I sprang to attention and clamped the earphones over my ears.

"What’s the last you heard from those planes?" he asked, not unkindly.

"They faded out over the Virginia Capes, sir." This was on 4200 kcs and the altitude of the planes is not recalled.

Last I ever saw or heard of the "Flying Lifeboats."


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